Low Carb and Low-Processed Food: Health impact of 100 Days of Dietary Change. A personal journey (Part I)
In this document I describe how, over a period of just over 100 days, I lost 14% of body weight and improved key blood measures, on a low-carb, low-processed food diet.
This document covers the period of June 5th 2021 to Oct 3rd 2021.
I describe the food intake, model calorie consumption vs weight loss, and show various measures, including bloodwork results, that document the progress.
This in an ongoing journey – I am 40lb down into the 100lb weight loss plan that I started June 5th. The results so far are very encouraging, and I hope the material will be useful for others.
This is my personal journey, and I am not a health professional, so none of below contents should be considered a recommendation.
Background and Initiative
May 2021 I received two news regarding my health: I reached my highest weight at 130.5 kg (corresponding to a BMI of 42.13 in the ‘Category 2’ obesity rate) and I was told that my liver enzyme levels AST and ATL were in dangerously high territory and required specialist analysis for any liver damage
The shock of the diagnosis was particularly because I thought of myself of ‘overweight but healthy’ – and being able to reduce my weight (as I have done occasionally before) was just a matter of willpower and when I found the time and mental energy. I did not think that my lifestyle would have caused any damage to my health or organs.
The diagnosis also resonated with me because my father suffered from diabetes which remained undiagnosed – eventually he lost his eyesight completely and was tied to a wheelchair as several strokes impacted the brain region responsible for maintaining balance. This required the family to care for him for the last 10 years of his life.
I decided to make a more substantial change to my lifestyle and my diet, with the aim of avoiding the need for further medication.
Implementing Diet and Lifestyle Changes
Objective: achieving a natural balance of hunger and satiety
I observed that I was constantly hungry – and even after eating large amounts of food, I would be hungry soon after. I learned that this is a common symptom of insulin resistance.
I was looking for a change in my diet that would help me to re-discover a natural feeling of hunger and satiety, rather than having to eat to plan or using willpower to control amounts.
A key aspect to that would be to eat as least processed, natural, ‘real’ food. This would mean largely eating home cooked meal and making conscious choices when eating outside.
I decided to follow a ‘low carb’ diet but I would maintain a balance of food.
The principles I followed are:
- Vast majority of food intake prepared at home from fresh ingredients
- Only animal fat and Olive oil (not heated) – no seed oils
- For any food prepared outside (Restaurants, Invitations) chose the least processed food (e.g. grilled over fried)
- No sugar or other sources of fructose
- No starchy vegetables or grain
- Pasture raised and grass fed meat and poultry
- No farmed fish
- Limited fruit intake (no fruit juices)
- Increased consumption of organ meat
- Very limited alcohol consumption
Individuals following diets often like to make reference to ‘cheat days’ – days when one could eat as much of anything (read: junk food), and then go back to a controlled diet.
Although I would not plan such ‘cheat days’, I would allow myself exceptions to my rules and just follow a healthier plan following that.
I use MyFitnessPal (MFP) to track food intake.
I would typically enter ingredients for home cooked meals and something from the choice of ready-meals for anything ordered from outside or served outside.
MFP provides a file extract of captured food items. I estimate calories by food group using the ‘Atwater system’ formula of 9kcal per 1g Fat and 4 kcal per 1g of Carbohydrate or Protein. This differs from the total calorie value calculated by MFP around 10%; there is no documentation available on the exact methodology used by MFP.
Below chart shows the composition of my diet on a weekly basis. About 50% to 60% of calories came from fat, predominantly animal fat (including diary and eggs). I removed all seed oils from my own food preparation, however any food consumed outside was likely to be made with seed oils.
I did not follow a specific diet program and did not attempt a strict keto or carnivore diet. A significant part of carbohydrates came from vegetables such as cabbage or carrots, although I largely avoided starchy vegetables and legumes. Except one or two days, any sugar consumed was either also from vegetables sources or raw fruit (no fruit juice)
Health Outcomes after 4 months
Weight and Body Measurements
- June 5th Weight: 5 kg
- Oct 2nd Weight: 6kg
(All measures in cm)
Blood Test Results
Since the dietary changes in June, a number of key measures significantly improved.
The only value deteriorated is LDL Cholesterol, AKA ‘Bad Cholesterol’. There is a debate on how ‘bad’, if at all, LDL-C actually is, or if a further breakdown into different pattern A and pattern B is a more meaningful interpretation.
Below a complete overview of all measures which have been recorded, including a record from 2014
That time my weight was 101kg / BMI of 32.6. It already indicated borderline pre-diabetes, but it was not a topic of treatment with my doctor at the time.
Blood pressure remained stable with a downward trend (in parallel with 30mg Lisinopril daily)
DEXA Scan Results
Two DEXA scans were performed however the results appeared inconsistent. It appears that in both cases the arms were not fully captured; however, trunk and leg results seem consistent with the weight loss at the time.
The DEXA scan seemed to calculate a body mass on both days of approx. 4kg lower than the actual weight.
Calorie Intake, Exercise and Correlation with Weight loss
Resting Metabolic Rate and Calorie Count
The reference point used is the ‘Resting Metabolic Rate’ which was measured Aug 18th to be 2808 kcal using an indirect Calorimeter (measuring oxygen output as proxy for calorie expenditure).
I exercised approximately 4 times a week, predominantly resistance training and occasional long walks. I estimated energy expenditure using the exercise estimator in MyFitnessPal.
Correlating Calorie Intake with Weight Loss, adjusted for exercise
This analysis tests the assumption that calorie deficit / excess is a predictor of weight loss, and that calorie expended through exercise can be used to offset calories consumed through food (“Calorie in/Calorie out” model).
The analysis tests calorie deficit/excess (as measured as % of Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) of 2808) over a given period vs % change in weight over the same period. Below charts show the comparison over 3, 6, 15 and 90 days. On the left, the gross calorie intake was considered, on the right the net calorie intake (ie calories from food minus calories expended through exercise).
The chart includes a linear regression with a 68% confidence interval.
If the size of a calorie deficit (excess) determines the size of weight loss (gain), then we would expect the graph to show a clear pattern following an upward sloping trend line.
However, the data do not show this. Neither over a short period of 3 days, nor a long period of 90 days, shows any correlation between the size of calorie deficit/excess and the size of weight change.
The data below suggest that reducing calorie intake will not predict weight loss, neither does calorie expenditure through exercise.
Weight Change vs Calorie Deficit/Excess: (Gross Calorie Consumption)
Weight Change vs Calorie Deficit/Excess: Minus Exercise Calorie Expenditure
Conclusion and next steps
I was able to reverse a clearly negative trend as indicating by blood tests with my diet in a relatively short period of time of just 4 months.
Whilst I see myself still on a journey, it has proven that the right dietary intervention meant I can reduce the medication I will take as well as reverse health trends of many years.
I am not able to say which aspect of my diet change and lifestyle had the most impact, or if it was the interaction. I am not planning to perform a ‘controlled’ experiment where I only change one aspect at a time, which really would be the gold standard for understanding the connection.
These 4 months included calorie reduction, exercise, no/low carb, high intake of animal fat, no fructose and no alcohol.
Perhaps each of these alone would have resulted in weight loss, perhaps not necessarily in improvement of blood results.
The best conclusion to draw so far is that my diet is ‘real food’ – largely home cooked, least processed.; And let the body naturally respond though hunger and satiety signals, which I had to re-learn to observe.
The next update on my journey will be at year end 2021.
I want to thank my sister Kristina who made it her life-mission to help others, my coach Chanta Thach who continues to support me on this journey, my friends and family who have been incredibly supportive all my life – during my challenging health times as well in this journey.
I also want to acknowledge the authors, researchers and science journalists who made so much information available to people like me, so that we can make better decisions for our health:
Dr Joan Ifland, Dr Robert Lustig, Dr David Ludwig, Dr David Unwin, Joseph Everett, Prof Tim Noakes, Dr Ken Berry, Gary Taubes, Dr Aseem Malhotra, Gary Fettke, Nina Teichholz, Dr Paul Mason, Gary Fettke, Dr. Sarah Hallberg… and many others
About the author
Arthur Rabatin is a specialist in Financial Markets Technology and a friend of The Noakes Foundation. Arthur’s quantitative background is the main reason for his interest in data and scientific methodology, and has also driven his passion for health and nutrition.
Arthur was born and grew up in Vienna, Austria, lived in London for 20 years and is currently living in New York. The health systems, and the food culture are very different between Europe, UK and the US – and having lived there has given him a unique insight into the interaction between health, preventative medicine, and the socio-economics of health and nutrition.
Arthur has struggled with weight for most of his adult life, but it was really during his time in the US, and the habit of eating easily accessible, processed food, that his health took a downward turn.
After many failed starts of various diets, Arthur learned about low carb and has been able to achieve positive and tangible benefits through an LCHF lifestyle.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions represented in this blog are personal to the author, and do not necessarily represent the position of the Foundation. The Foundation has not reviewed or endorsed the apparatus referred to in the article. The content of this article should not be considered as medical advice, it is for informative and educational purposes only.